It’s a smaller week this week as the studios gear up for the holiday rush, meaning it’s just a lull before we get some huge releases in the month of December. Here’s what’s on tap this week.
Planes Trains & Automobiles (4K Ultra HD) – Paramount has a classic new catalog releases out this week with the John Hughes comedy classic Planes, Trains & Automobiles. While it seems like they repackage this one every year (largely because they do), this year we get the film on the premium 4K Ultra HD format for the first time. Now, I absolutely love Planes, Trains & Automobiles; I think it’s one of the only truly great Thanksgiving-themed movies, and Steve Martin and John Candy are absolutely terrific in it. Plus, it’s John Hughes, and he made some of the absolute best movies of the’80s and ‘90s. While this new version doesn’t add anything new in terms of extra content or new features, it does get the 4K upgrade (and the release includes a digital copy as well!), which gives it a nice little audio/visual boost. The film is three decades old, so it’s not like it suddenly looks or sounds brand new, but I think you’ll notice the picture is a little sharper, the colors are a little brighter, and the overall look of the print is clean and crisp. Planes, Trains & Automobiles is a great, funny comedy, and it should be in your collection, and this is a great format to own it in.
Pearl – Horror filmmaker Ti West has carved out a nice career for himself and become something of a cult hero, making films that are well liked by critics and fans alike. His latest film, Pearl, is a prequel to X, a film that came out earlier this year and gained a lot of positive marks. While I didn’t really care for X or Pearl, I will say this: West has absolutely mastered the craft of making the exact films he wants to make. X, for example, is set in the 1970s and meant to be a ‘70s-styled horror flick, and he completely succeeds in that aesthetic. Pearl takes place in 1918 and West is clearly making a film styled after the early Technicolor movies from classic Hollywood. In that respect, he succeeds. The film looks like it’s right out of the 1950s, in the way it’s shot, the technicolor hues, the backdrops, and even the opening titles. But the film itself is disturbing and gory and while I’m sure many people will like it (just as many people really liked X), it wasn’t my cup of tea, I couldn’t root for any of the characters, it was too dark for my tastes, and I felt it was just an unpleasant watch from start to finish. Your mileage may vary.
Jerry & Marge Go Large – Bryan Cranston and Annett Bening star in this lighthearted drama based on real life events. Jerry is a man who has been obsessed with numbers his whole life. When he is forcibly retired from his small-town factory job, he is listless until he discovers a loophole in the lottery that will allow him to win every time he plays a particular game. Wanting to do more than just get rich, Jerry and Marge launch a company that sells shares of their winnings to the other townspeople, helping to revitalize the town. But there’s a rival group that is trying to shut them down, which leads to some of the film’s conflict. Jerry & Marge Go Large is one of those films that isn’t groundbreaking or exciting, but it is a pleasant, enjoyable film with an intriguing story. Cranston is outstanding, Rainn Wilson shines in a supporting role, and the film moves along at a good pace that keeps you interested. You won’t be on the edge of your seat, but it’s a good way to kill a couple of hours.
Gigi & Nate – This new drama based on real events tells the story of a teenager who becomes a quadripilegic and is eventually paired with a capuchin monkey as an emotional support animal. It starts off in a fairly typical way: teenaged Nate is a bright and popular kid who suffers from meningitis that leads to his paralysis. Drowning in depression and a lack of direction in his life, Nate gets Gigi, a support monkey who – naturally – turns his life around. So far, so cliched. But then the film turns around a bit, when a viral video of Nate and Gigi leads to protests led by an animal rights activist who posits that it’s cruel to enslave intelligent animals as service pets. While it’s not the deepest dive into the subject and the film’s resolution isn’t exactly controversial, I was surprised to see the film change directions halfway through in a way I wasn’t really expecting. With a good lead performance by Charlie Rowe and dependable performances by Marcia Gay Harden and Jim Belushi as Nate’s parents, it’s an enjoyable film that leads you to think more than I expected.
That ‘70s Show: The Complete Series – This new 16-Disc collection from Mill Creek boasts that it’s the “best DVD version” of That ‘70s Show ever, featuring remastered widescreen picture and surround sound. And honestly the show does look and sound pretty good. Why, then, is it being released on DVD and not Blu-ray, the format that would allow us to really take advantage of that remastered picture quality? I don’t know, but I do know this: That ‘70s Show was an absolutely fantastic sitcom and you can now own all eight seasons of it in one compact box set for somewhere in the neighborhood of 20 bucks. Collecting all 200 episodes over 16 discs, this new set takes us to Wisconsin in the 1970s and lets us watch the teenage years of Eric Foreman, his on-again/off-again girlfriend Donna, and his friends Kelso, Jackie, Hyde, and Fez, plus of course, his parents Kitty and Red. Honestly, I always loved this show, and going back and revisiting it with this set reminded me just how much fun it was. There’s no shortage of previous versions of the show on home video, but if you don’t have it already or are looking for a good holiday gift, this one is a winner.
A Discovery of Witches: The Complete Trilogy – Based on the bestselling All Souls novels by Agatha Harkness, A Discovery of Witches is a British television series starring Theresa Palmer and Matthew Goode, two actors I enjoy a great deal. Now, I’m not a hard sell to like a show like this; it features a witch and a vampire who embrace science and try to discover the reason for a decline in magical creatures in the world. And, oh yeah, there may be a little bit of romance in there as well, which is never a bad thing. So this show was right up my alley to begin with, and I’ve really enjoyed it. This new Complete Trilogy collection includes all three seasons of the show in a nicely-designed case, and it includes a collectible bookmark as well. I dig the show, I like its compact season format (nine episodes per season) and I think it’s poised to be discovered by a larger audience worldwide. If you like Harry Potter or The X-Files, I think you’ll find this show right up your Diagon Alley. if you haven’t checked it out yet, this is a great way to immerse yourself in the world of A Discovery of Witches.
Doom Patrol: The Complete Third Season – I’ll admit, I was more than a little surprised when DC went ahead with making Doom Patrol one of the flagship shows of their now-defunct DC Unlimited app (the show now airs exclusively on HBO Max). I’ve always enjoyed the Doom Patrol comics, but they’re hands down one of the weirdest superhero teams in existence, and I thought pulling it off as a TV show would be… challenging, to say the least. But somehow, DC has made it work. The show manages to capture the vibe of the comics, and if you’re wondering if the comic books are as weird as the show, I can assure you that they absolutely are. The show has really unique tone, a great cast, and it feels different from any other superhero show around. Heck, it feels different from any other TV show around, period. This third season collection is available on Blu-ray and DVD, and it contains all ten episodes. This chapter of the show sees the Season Two storyline of the Candlemaker wrap up, and it also brings the Brotherhood of Evil storyline to the forefront. There’s a truly standout episode featuring zombies, and I think if you’ve liked the show so far, this season won’t do anything to change how you feel about it. It’s a great way to get caught up before Season 4, which will be premiering on HBO Max on December 8th.
Earth Girls Are Easy – The ‘80s cult classic comes to Blu-ray via Lionsgate’s Vestron Video Collector’s Series, and it’s a pretty great release. This sci-fi comedy sees three aliens (Jeff Goldblum and a pre-fame Jim Carrey and Damon Wayans) land on Earth, and good time girl Geena Davis and her boss Julie Brown show them the town. It’s a silly comedy and the kind of movie that will drive you nuts if you try to take it seriously, but if you just sit back and roll with it, it’s a lot of fun. It also serves as a real snapshot of the 1980s, so the fashion, hairstyles, and music seem kind of alien in their own right in this day and age, but I love how accurately it captures the feel of that decade. This new Collector’s Edition sees the film on Blu-ray for the first time, and it also contains a nice collection of extra features. This is a wacky and fun comedy to revisit and a perfect addition to the Vestron Video line-up.
Also Available This Week on Home Video –
- Dig – Thomas Jane, Emile Hirsch, Liana Liberato, and Harlow Jane star in this new thriller that has some good performances but suffers from a weak script and mediocre direction. The film sees Jane and his deaf daughter (played by his real-life daughter, Harlow Jane) at the site of their old house which is soon to be demolished, only to be taken hostage by an unhinged couple who want something hidden on the property. From there, it’s your pretty typical hostage/survival thriller that never elevates above its direct-to-video ambitions. Thomas Jane is always enjoyable on screen, and Hirsch and Liberato chew the scenery as the bad guys, but it’s Harlow Jane who steals the show as the daughter. She’s clearly a very talented actor and I look forward to seeing what she can do in better movies. The film’s problem is that it just never gets interesting. The writing is pedestrian, people talk too much and do too little, and the stylistic choices the film makes are either too mundane or too offbeat, with no real middle ground. With the exception of the acting, it’s just a “meh” film in every way.
- Ski Patrol – There are cult classic movies that most cinema fans have seen by now (like The Thing or Better Off Dead) and then there are those cult classics that even most cinemaphiles haven’t seen but are still well-loved by a small but devoted core of die-hard fans. Ski Patrol is one of the latter kinds of films. It’s a 1980s comedy in the vein of Police Academy that I suspect 99% of the people who have seen it first encountered on HBO or Cinemax on repeat viewings late into most Friday and Saturday nights. And for the most part, it’s a pretty standard ‘80s over-the-top ensemble comedy (even though it technically came out in 1990, it’s an ‘80s comedy in all but release date.) But it is a lot of fun, and it has a few interesting people in the cast, including Paul Feig (who would go on to direct Bridesmaids and the 2016 Ghostbusters), George Lopez, Martin Mull, and character actor Steve Hytner (you’ll know him when you see him). The film makes its Blu-ray debut courtesy of MVD’s Rewind Collection, and while it doesn’t include any real extra features, you do get new (and reversible) case artwork and a mini-poster. It’s not a comedy classic, but it’s a fun film that is worth a look, especially if you’ve never seen it.
- Panther – Mario Van Peebles directed this drama that depicts the real-life rise of the Black Panthers in Oakland, California in the late 1960s. Written by Peebles’ father, legendary filmmaker Melvin Van Peebles, this 1995 biopic drama features an all-star cast, including Bokeem Woodbine, Kadeem Hardison, Courtney B. Vance, Angela Basset, Joe Don Baker, M. Emmet Walsh, and even Chris Rock. The end product is a bit of a mixed bag; the performances are quite good and the film keeps you engaged throughout, and that’s good. On the other hand, many of the events in the film have been “Hollywoodized,” including an explosive climax that was apparently created whole cloth for the film. And while it makes for a more exciting film, it also seems a little disingenuous for a true story, especially one that tackles such an important topic and delves into racism and violence and civil rights. The film comes to Blu-ray for the first time thanks to MVD’s Marquee Collection, and I’m glad it’s newly available (after being unavailable on home video for several years, as far as I can tell) as I think it is somewhat of an overlooked film, despite its historical inaccuracies.
- Contraband – Lucio Fulci is a name well known to horror fans, especially those immersed in the world of Giallo, or Italian horror movies (most typically those from the 1960s through the 1980s.) He’s probably less known to action film fanatics, but he did branch into the genre occasionally, as evidenced by Contraband, a 1980 actioner about a member of an Italian smuggling gang, Luca, whose brother and other gangsters are murdered by a French gang trying to muscle in on their action. Luca is then forced to team up with a rival mafia family and the police to rescue his wife when she is kidnapped by the leader of the French gang. While the story is nothing groundbreaking in the action genre, what sets this film apart from other early ‘80s fare is Fulci’s hand behind the camera. Steeped in the horror world, Fulci brings his visceral sensibilities to the proceedings, meaning the film’s action is violent and bloody, more so than most American films of the time period. I can’t say I loved the film, but fans of Fulci’s or extreme cinema would do well to check out this Blu-ray debut of the movie.
- The Tubular Bells 50th Anniversary Tour: Live – I don’t know how many of today’s young adults are familiar with Tubular Bells, but for people of a certain age, Mike Oldfield’s magnum opus remains ingrained in their psyches. The album came out in the early 1970s and has since sold over 17 million copies. This new double disc Blu-ray release gives us the Tubular Bells 50th Anniversary concert, live and filled with everything you could imagine: an orchestra, dancers, light shows, and acrobats, among other things. The only thing missing is, well, Mike Oldfield himself. Yep, while he does appear in a bonus interview feature included in the set, this concert film is effectively like a Cirque du Soleil version of Tubular Bells; Oldfield never sets foot on stage. It’s still a really cool show and it’s a visual and audio spectacular, but it’s not quite what some fans will want to see. There is an added documentary as well as the aforementioned interview with Oldfield, so there’s a lot of bang for your buck, but just make sure you know what you’re getting into when you watch it.